Alternatives to Punishment – Part 1

It is not possible to have an effective learning without making mistakes. Child does same. They learn and develop the understanding of the world through mistakes. Shall mistakes be punished or be handled in such a way that provides and opportunity to learn better?

Situation 1:What would you do if your 7-year-old snatched away the toy from your 1-year-old and left him crying?

Situation 2:What would you do if your 13-year-old has spilled his coke all over your car seat in spite of your warning him to have it outside the car?

Situation 3:What would you do if your 3-year-old threw all her clothes outside her cupboard because you said no to her for wearing a certain dress?

An almost unanimous response we get from parents is Teach him/ her lesson!

I believe that our intentions behind such an action point are perfect. We want the child to know that this kind of behavior is not acceptable and often leads to undesirable results. We want that child should not repeat this kind of behavior. (Any others?)

A punishment can be seen as a parent deliberately depriving child or inflicting pain upon him in order to teach the child a lesson. Consequences on the other hand let the child realize, accept and think future action based on the natural fallout of his action.

Lets look at this three-step process:

  1. Express your feelings , without attacking the character. It is the behavior which is not acceptable.
  2. State your expectations. Whats is desirable ?
  3. Let them make some amends through some action. Offer some choices if needed.

(Do THIS so THAT is not repeated).

Lets see how 3 step process can fit in our situations.

Situation 1

  1. Express Feelings – I’m feeling furious! The baby was playing happily until the toy was taken away. It annoys me when my peace is disturbed.
  2. State Expectations – I expect you to take care of your younger sister. I expect you two to play with each other, not against each other.
  3. Desirable action – It would be proper if we/you find some way to end her crying now. It’s important for me that both of you are laughing and enjoying.

Situation 2

  1. Express Feelings – Whole seat has become terribly soiled. It makes me feel so angry to see this mess. It is even more frustrating to me when you know coke has to be had outside.
  2. State Expectations – I expect all of us to be careful while having a drink.
  3. Desirable action – Let’s clean the seat. In addition, as soon we reach home, we need to shampoo seat cover and take care of it. .

Situation 3

  1. Express Feelings – I am feeling quite upset the way you reacted to my saying ‘no’. It troubles me when you show anger by actions.
  2. State Expectations – I expect that you will tell me if you are angry. Also, I expect you to first understand my point of view before getting angry.
  3. Desirable Actions – You can put all your clothes back nicely. Alternatively you can first talk to me about your anger then maybe I will help you and we can decorate the cupboard nicely.

Please re-read the last situation. What a lovely way to imbibe this critical life skill – ability to manage our emotions. If you feel three year old are too young, try it and you will be surprised – they are very perceptive even at this age.

The simple but extremely effective three step process in so versatile, it can suit any type of discipline problem, any age and any number of children (teachers try it!).

One final word of caution :

“A child needs to feel our disapproval at certain times, but if our reaction is of such strength (e.g.punishment) that the child feels worthless and despised for his offense, we have abused our power as parents and have created the possibility that exaggerated guilt feelings and self hatred will play a part in the child’s development.”

Dr. Selma Frailberg from her book ‘The Magic Years’